In May this year, the distribution arm of afro-urban entertainment powerhouse Trace inked a deal with Hot Ticket Productions to distribute Nigeria’s first feature-length 3D animated film, Lady Buckit and the Motley Mopsters, worldwide—opening the door to a potential global audience for an animation that was conceived in the home of a Nigerian geologist.
Securing this circulation channel gave the animated movie a new lease of life at a time when Covid-19 has kept millions of people from stores, restaurants, and movie theaters.
Trace markets itself as a studio and distributor that collaborates with both emerging and established talents to generate premium afro-urban content for leading digital platforms with a potential audience of 400 million fans in 160 countries.
Distributors like Trace, who hold rights for television channels, mobile operators, video platforms, aerial, and maritime video services and cinema are a critical component of Africa’s movie industry. Trace’s acquisition of Lady Buckit was a vote of confidence for the quality of the animation film, which has now been nominated for Annecy Festival 2021.
“Lady Buckit and the Motley Mopster” joins other African animation projects that are attracting global interest
Trace asserted in the film’s admission that “the animation film is booming in Africa thanks to the determination of real enthusiasts for drawing and animation.”
“The release of the first Nigerian feature-length, cinematic animation film, Lady Buckit and the Motley Mopsters, opened the doors to animation in Nigeria,” Trace said.
With Lady Buckit gaining industry traction, the film’s executive producer Blessing Amidu is chalking up her first win in the animation industry. For Amidu, however, making the movie meant a lot more than just the production. It also meant an entire career change, pivoting from geologist to filmmaker.
“They may seem like two separate worlds but in fact, they are not. The ‘Art’ is who I am and the ‘Geologist’ was whom I had to become to survive,” she explained in an interview.
Amidu launched the groundbreaking film in December 2020. Set in pre-colonial Oloibiri, Delta State in South-South Nigeria town where crude oil was first discovered in commercial quantities in the 1950s, a curious eight-year-old gets accidentally transported through time, only to encounter a band of highly unusual characters who change the course of her destiny.
The movie’s premiere wowed Nigeria, and it has been winning global accolades from both movie buffs and critics.
Adebisi Adetayo, who directed the movie from the story developed by Stanlee Ohikhuare, says that the animation movie is proof that a great film doesn’t have to mimic Hollywood to be phenomenal.
Lady Buckit transcends generations, with both kids and adults able to relate with both the storyline and the characters.
Its success, despite being released in the midst of a raging global pandemic, suggests a coming of age of a new genre from Nigeria’s much-touted “Nollywood” film industry.
Lady Buckit also came hot on the heels of backlash of Disney having very few Black characters. The animation features Black characters in their different shades of skin tones. The movie’s dialogue also proudly incorporated Nigeria’s vernaculars Ijaw, Pidgin, and Yoruba in addition to English.
The animated film featured voice actors including veterans, Patrick Doyle, Bimbo Akintola, Kalu Igweagu, newcomers Kelechi Udegbe, Awazi Angbalaga, and child actors, Jessica Edwards, David Edwards, and David Akpakwu.
Amidu narrated how one evening while watching a cartoon with her children she felt inspired to create.
“It all began with just spending time with my kids, just having family time…I began to discover real-time that my kids exhibited the same mannerism as the cartoons,” Amidu recalled.
“I began to have ideas just play around in my head and that is how Lady Buckit was born.”
From a young age, Amidu had always been mesmerized by the animated fairy tales of the world like the 70s’ Voltron: The Defender of the Universe, and her favorite Bigfoot and Wildboy. To create her own was a special feeling.
But it was not smooth sailing. The film production suffered several hiccups, top being a cash crunch,and assembling a team to breathe life into the movie. After about two years and around $40,000 spent and no progress made, Amidu, miffed but determined, considered paying American or Asian firms to produce the film. But then Adetayo emerged.
“It had two production failures. I was meant to direct the movie while it was being produced in India. But then I asked an I see the script of what I am going to India to direct…When I was showed the synopsis of the story, I told them point-blank that this movie can be produced here in Nigeria. He was cut out of the project immediately,” Adetayo recalled.
“I was told we have we have already spent cash and there was nothing to show for it and now you are telling us it can still be done in Nigeria?”
Three months later, he received a call from the director of M-Net’s Shuga series, who set up a meeting between him and the Lady Buckit producers, for him to demonstrate how the film could be produced in Nigeria. He did so and less than a year later, the movie was on the country’s big screens.
African animations can help change the narrative about the continent
The movie is estimated to have cost about $1 million to produce, a negligible amount compared to Soul, which gobbled up $150 million.
Adetayo asserts that big budgets are well and good but don’t always translate into quality. He insists that “education is the future of the industry. Throwing money at things doesn’t solve every problem”
For Amidu, the importance of Lady Buckit is also how it is able to change the narrative in and on Nigeria, with its setting in the country’s southeast.
“Every story coming out of that place [Niger Delta] has been that of violence, deprivation, suffering, and poverty for people living in that region. So coming up with this story sort of changes that narrative. Here we get to see Oloibiri in a different light. It shows that this girl despite all the challenges is able to overcome them and excel,” she said.
The animated feature also, she believes, has the power to change the narrative on Africa’s film industry.
“Coming back to Africa, no part of this production was done out of Nigeria. You can take this production anywhere and it will be able to fly. Nobody thought we could do animation, leave alone 3D animation,” she said.
Today, when Amidu picks up the remote to watch Lady Buckit and the Motley Mopsters, it is like watching tiny bits of her children’s ‘character’ displayed on the grand screen.
Following the success of Lady Buckit, Amidu and her new production studio are just getting started, with an idea for a sequel is already in the works.
Animation—which was projected to reach $270 billion globally by 2020—is still a budding industry in Nigeria.
According to UNESCO, Nigeria’s Nollywood is the second largest film industry in the world, with Africa’s movie industry making impressive strides as audiences on the continent increasingly choose made-in-Africa movies over foreign ones.
This, the African Report said, was made evident in 2010 when Chineze Anyaene’s film, Ijé: The Journey, became the second highest-grossing film in Nigerian cinemas, behind Avatar, the highest-grossing film worldwide.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that “Lady Buckit and the Motley Mopsters” grossed more than Pixar’s soul in Nigerian cinemas.
This story was republished with the permission of bird, a story agency under Africa No Filter.
Sign up to the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief here for news and analysis on African business, tech, and innovation in your inbox.